We took a look at various pH meters yesterday, so let’s ask the most important question of all today – Do you need a pH meter? And what’s the advantage of using a pH meter over pH strips?
The first question should be – Do you need to measure the pH of your products?
If you’re making lotions with oils, butters, and so on, probably not. The pH will be in the right range.
If you’re making lotions that contain active ingredients like AHAs, Vitamin C, salicylic acid, and other cosmeceuticals, definitely yes. These ingredients require very specific pH ranges and they’re useless outside of it. As well, you want to make sure you aren’t going too low as this could burn you. It is vital if you’re using these kinds of acids that you measure the pH accurately.
If you’re making body wash, facial cleaners, or shampoos with surfactants that have an acidic starting pH, like cocamidopropyl betaine or disodium laureth sulfosuccinate, then no, probably not.
If you’re making body washes or shampoos with ingredients like decyl glucoside, pH 8 to 11, or sodium lauryl sarcosinate, pH 7.5 to 8.5, then yes, as we want the pH of these ingredients to be below 6.
If you’re making shampoo bars with sodium coco sulfate (SCS), you definitely need a pH meter. I can’t believe how many blog posts I’m seeing where people are making shampoo bars with this ingredient and aren’t lowering the pH drastically. SCS is a very alkaline ingredient with a pH over 9, which will wreck your hair if you don’t alter it!
If you want to make a shampoo bar and don’t want to test the pH, then use sodium cocoyl isethionate or SCI as it has a perfect pH for our hair.
As a note, check out the surfactant section of the blog for more information on these wonderful, bubbly, lathery, foamy ingredients!
pH of conditioner
If you’re making conditioners with ingredients like stearamidopropyl dimethylamine or Varisoft EQ65, both of which require adjusting the pH to lower than 5 as they aren’t cationic or positively charged until then. No pH adjustment, no conditioner.
By the way, Varisoft EQ 65 is an amazing conditioner! It’s ECOcert, green, and readily biodegradable, which is great, but it makes my hair feel so soft!!!
The essential question is whether you need to adjust the pH to make the ingredient work or make the product safe.
When I present a formula on this blog, in the e-books, or in the e-zines, I make sure it’s pH balanced. If you follow my formula exactly, you can rest assured it’s in the right pH range. If you change a water soluble ingredient, like a hydrosol or extract and so on, or an emulsifier, it might not be any more.
To give you a very specific example, I made a salicylic acid toner with the rose geranium hydrosol from Windy Point (pH 5.26), which worked out very well. When I made it the next time with Voyageur’s rose hydrosol (ph 6.99), it went all weird and cloudy as the pH was increased, and fell outside the necessary range.
For other things, it’s no big deal, but for something that is so pH specific, this small change made all the difference.
So part of the answer is that you need to measure some products, but not others.
Could you use pH strips instead of a pH meter for products? Yes, and no. It depends on how accurate you need to be. If you’re looking for “anything below pH 6” for a body wash or shampoo, then strips could be all you need.
If you’re looking for between 3.0 and 3.5 so you don’t burn yourself and so the AHAs or Vitamin C or other ingredient is effective, go with the machine as accuracy is vital here.
I’ve been experimenting with pH strips from Lotioncrafter. They have three test areas, and it’s definitely the more the merrier here!
So when looking for strips…
1. More testing areas = more better. These ones have three measurements, while these litmus strips can only give you one measurement for pH 1 to 14.
2. Choose the testing range wisely. Lotioncrafter has pH 2 to 9, and 7 to 14 strips. For everything but soap, you’ll want the pH 2 to 9.
3. Get a lot. You’ll need to test your product with every adjustment, so you can go through five or six quite quickly.
An aside…why don’t I use the strips? Because I suck horribly at matching the colours to the pH range. I’m not kidding about this. If it weren’t for the fact that it’s rare for women to be colour blind, I’d think I might be at times. I don’t do well with slight variation like those on the strips. My mom used to tell me all the time something was “mauve” instead of “purple”, but I have no idea how to tell the difference!
So do you need a pH meter or not? If you’re making things exactly as they are presented to you on a website or blog you can trust, then no, you don’t need to get a pH meter. For everything else I listed above, yes, you need to be able to test the pH of your creations.
If you can’t afford much, then get the strips that measure at least 2 spots. The more, the better. Having said this, you’ll be using quite a number for each product you make, so get a pack of 100. (I found this brand that I know nothing about on Canadian Amazon. I can recommend this package I have been using from Lotioncrafter, the pH 2 to 9 version, that also comes in 100 packs.)
If you can afford to $25 to get a meter from Amazon, I’d suggest the Etekcity (from yesterday’s post). I’m sure there are others, but that’s the one I tested yesterday. I can’t recommend the WeePro at this time, but I’m hoping to find time to test it in the next few weeks.
If you can afford $100 to get a meter from Amazon, I’d suggest the PH200 (from yesterday’s post) or the Jenco pH 630 in the States. There are also some great ones from our vendors, like Lotioncrafter.
Check your local hydroponics store for pH meters as well. I know a few near me have some lovely ones, the kind we use at university, but they’re $300 to $400 and I just can’t afford that.
As a note, again, I don’t have any affiliate links, ads, or sponsored posts on this blog. When I recommend a vendor or shop, it’s because I like the vendor or shop.
How to test the pH of our products and more (updated for 2017) – loads of links in this post